Zelensky says Putin killed Wagner chief Prigozhin in plane crash

Ukrainian president also warns ‘slower’ arms shipments from Western countries threaten counteroffensive; says Russia hopes US presidential elections will reduce support for Kyiv

A portrait of the owner of private military company Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin lays at an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, August 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A portrait of the owner of private military company Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin lays at an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, August 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday of being behind the death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash last month.

“He killed Prigozhin, at least we all have this information and not any other,” he said.

Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, died with nine other people when a plane flying from Moscow to Saint Petersburg crashed on August 23.

Exactly two months earlier, Prigozhin had openly challenged Russia’s military high command by leading a short-lived mutiny with his fighters that threatened to spiral into civil conflict.

The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions that it orchestrated the crash in revenge for Wagner’s march on Moscow in June.

Zelensky also warned that “slower” arms shipments from Western countries were threatening his counteroffensive, calling for more powerful and long-range weapons to push back Russian forces.

This handout photograph taken and released by the Ukrainian Presidential press service on September 8, 2023, shows President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky speaking during the 18th meeting of the Yalta European Strategy in Kyiv. (Handout / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP)

Ukraine launched its counteroffensive in June after stockpiling Western weapons, but has made limited gains as its troops encounter heavily fortified Russian defensive lines.

“All processes are becoming more complicated and slower — from sanctions to the provision of weapons,” Zelensky said in comments published on the presidential website.

“The longer it takes, the more people suffer,” he warned.

Elections

His comments came as Moscow held local elections on Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory, condemned by Kyiv and international groups as a sham.

“Russia’s pseudo-elections in the temporarily occupied territories are worthless,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement, accusing Moscow of “grossly violating” its sovereignty.

Russia said voting was underway in the four Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — none of which Moscow fully controls — as well as in Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Alexander Kozlov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, September 6, 2023. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Zelensky also said that Russia was hoping upcoming US presidential elections would reduce Washington’s support for Kyiv, insisting it was “important that the American people support democracy, support Ukraine, support our struggle.”

He acknowledged that while Ukraine had bipartisan backing, there were “voices in the Republican Party who say that support for Ukraine should be reduced.”

In a meeting in Kyiv, Zelensky also declared he was prepared to hold elections in Ukraine despite the possibility of ongoing combat, saying his government was ready to adjust to wartime constraints to make sure legitimate polls were held.

“I am ready for the elections. I mean, we are ready if it is necessary,” he said.

He acknowledged potential difficulties, including for refugees and people in Russian-occupied territories, and the need for servicemen on the front to have their say.

“For us the main thing is not to hold elections, but for them to be recognized,” he said.

‘War crime’

Russia continued to pound central and eastern Ukraine with air strikes Friday, with Ukrainian officials posting images of the destruction on social media.

“A Russian aerial bomb killed three civilians in Odradokamyanka — two women and a man. Four local residents were injured,” Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said, calling the attack a “war crime.”

Odradokamyanka is about 60 kilometers (40 miles) upstream of Kherson city, on the west bank of the Dnipro river, which was recaptured by Ukraine’s forces last November.

This handout photograph published on September 8, 2023 by the National Police of Ukraine, shows damaged residential houses following a military strike in Sumy, northeastern Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Handout / National Police of Ukraine / AFP)

A separate Russian strike on Friday targeted Zelensky’s hometown Kryvyi Rig, hitting a police building in the city centre and killing a policeman, Klymenko said.

Photos from the scene showed smoke spewing from the ruins of the building as rescue workers carried an injured person to an ambulance.

“Rescuers of the State Emergency Service pulled out three more from under the rubble. They are in serious condition,” Klymenko said.

Russia also struck the city of Sumy in northeast Ukraine, officials said, while one man was wounded in a rocket attack on Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

‘The next step’

Zelensky and Ukrainian officials have frequently hit back at criticism that Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south and east has been too slow.

“When some partners say: what about the counteroffensive, when will the next step be? My answer is that today our steps are probably faster than new sanctions packages,” Zelensky said Friday.

“There is a specific impact of a specific weapon. The more powerful and long-range it is, the faster the counteroffensive is,” he said.

Zelensky’s request for new arms supplies came a day after top US diplomat Antony Blinken wrapped up his surprise two-day visit to Ukraine, in which he announced $1 billion of new wartime aid.

Most Popular
read more: